Sunday, March 31, 2019

Gregorian Chant and the Spiritual Life of Monks and the Laity

Episode 5 of Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast is live, and we have the privilege of bringing you an interview with Fr Cassian Folsom, OSB.

Fr. Cassian, as many NLM readers know, is from the Benedictine Monastery in Norcia, Italy. We discuss with him how singing Gregorian chant forms the spiritual life of the monks through the daily prayer of the Divine Office and the Mass. We also touch on the role of Gregorian chant in the spiritual life of lay people, and its role in parish music programs.

Fr. Cassian is American-born and studied music prior to entering the monastic community of St. Meinrad in Indiana. In 1998, he founded his monastic community in Rome; the community moved to Norcia in 2000. Being steeped in medieval monastic tradition, the monastery is known not only for its 2015 best-selling CD Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia, but also for its production of artisanal beer.

The monastery’s website is here.

Buy the monks’ CD “Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia” here.

Buy the monks’ beer here.

Laetare Sunday 2019

Laetáre, Jerúsalem, et conventum fácite, omnes qui dilígitis eam: gaudéte cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis, ut exsultétis, et satiémini ab ubéribus consolatiónis vestrae. Ps. 121 Laetátus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Dómini íbimus. Gloria Patri. Laetáre... (The Introit of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, here sung in a polyphonic setting by Andrea Gabrieli, 1532-85.)

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together, all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Ps. 121 I rejoiced at the things that were said to me, We will go up to the house of the Lord. Glory be... Rejoice, O Jerusalem...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An Early Medieval Biblical Narrative - The Story of Susanna Carved in a Crystal

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent is the day on which the Roman Rite traditionally reads the longest epistle of the year, the story of Susanna in the thirteenth chaper of the book of Daniel; I have previously written on the history of this passage’s liturgical use.

One of the most interesting artistic representations of this story is a carved piece of rock-crystal, made for King Lothair II, a great-grandson of Charlemagne, and ruler of a large part of the latter’s divided Empire. An important part of his history, and that of the Church in the mid-9th century, involves his attempts to rid himself of his sterile wife, Teutberga, and replace her with his long-time mistress. He was granted an annulment by a complaisant synod of bishops, but Pope Nicholas I overturned their decision, and declared his original marriage valid: an important witness to the sanctity of marriage in an age where all too many of the clergy were at the beck and call of the spirit of their age. Partly under political pressure from his uncles, who ruled the rest of the Carolingian Empire, and partly under threat of excommunication by the Pope, Lothair was (temporarily) reconciled with his wife in the year 865. The British medieval scholar Valerie Flint believed that the carved crystal represents a vindication of Teutberga, whom Lothair had accused of sexual immorality, (specifically, incest with her brother), just as Susanna was accused of adultery, and proven innocent by the Prophet Daniel. (Click image to enlarge.)

The Lothair Crystal, also known as the Susanna Crystal, ca. 865 A.D., now in the British Museum in London. The 15th century bronze frame may have been added to turn it into a morse, the large clasp that closes a cope at the front. The crystal was cracked when the monastery where it had been kept for centuries was sacked during the French Revolution, and it was thrown into the Meuse River. The holes in the frame formerly held jewels. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Ashley Van Haeften: CC BY 2.0
The story as depicted here starts on the upper left and runs clockwise; the latticed enclosure is the garden where the two elders have accosted Susanna as she bathes. To the right of the lattice (in the upper part of the crack), two servants turn to Susanna’s aid as she cries out for help. In the middle of the right side, the two elders stand before Joachim’s house, demanding that Susanna be brought forward for judgment; immediately below, they accuse her by placing their hands over her head, while the bystanders express their astonishment. Beneath that, an official with a staff in his hands leads Susanna off to execution, but is stopped by the Prophet Daniel. On the lower left side, Daniel reproves the first elder, and above that, convicts the second of lying. The two elders are then stoned to death. In the central medallion, Susanna stands before the judgment seat of Daniel, her arms stretched out in a gesture of thanksgiving, with two other men (one perhaps her husband) on the left.

The art historian John Beckwith correctly noted that “Susanna was regarded in early Christian times as a symbol of the persecuted Church … and there can be no doubt that an early Christian model was at hand when the crystal was carved.” (Early Medieval Art, p 68). In point of fact, the elders accusing Susanna by placing their hands on her head, and Susanna giving thanks for her delivery with arms outstretched, are both portrayed in exactly the same way in the Catacombs of Priscilla, in an image dated to the early decades of the 3rd century.
The so-called Greek Chapel (really a funerary chamber) within the Catacombs of Priscilla, ca. 225 A.D. On the right side, the elders lusting after Susanna, pointing at her mid-riff. One the left side, (further from the camera) the elders accuse Susanna by placing their hands on her head; on the right, Susanna and Daniel (not seen here) give thanks for her deliverance.
A drawing made in 1880 of the fresco seen above on the left side of the Greek Chapel, in which the accusation of Susanna, and Susanna giving thanks for her deliverance, are represented much as they are on the Lothair crystal over 600 years later. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Laetare Sunday Photopost Request 2019

Our next major photopost will be for Laetare Sunday, the second Sunday of the liturgical year when rose-colored vestments may be used. Please send your photos (whether of the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form, Ordinariate Rite etc.) to for inclusion. Photos of Vespers and other parts of the Office are always welcome, as well as liturgies of the recent feasts of St Joseph and the Annunciation; for our Byzantine friends, we will be glad to include photos of the Veneration of the Cross on the Third Sunday of Great Lent. Please be sure to include the name and location of the church, and always feel free to add any other information you think important. Evangelize through beauty!
From our second Laetare photopost last year, Vespers at the church of St Trophime in Bourme-les-Mimosas, France, celebrated by our friends of the Fraternity of St Joseph the Guardian.

From the first post, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross at St Peter Eastern Catholic Church in Ukiah, California.

ICK Lenten Day of Recollection for Young Adults in Missouri

Sursum Corda is a nationwide initiative of the Institute of Christ the King which aims to foster the spiritual lives of young adults. Tomorrow, March 30, it will offer a Lenten day of recollection for Catholic young adults (18-35), at the church of St Brendan, located at 615 S Washington St in Mexico, Missouri. The retreat includes a Solemn Mass of the Lenten feria, First Vespers of Laetare Sunday, spiritual conferences by clergy of the Institute, as well as opportunities for silence, meditation, and confessions. After the retreat concludes, there will also be time for socializing with good Catholic company! There is no cost to attend, but please be sure to bring your own lunch! Please direct any questions to

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2019 (Part 4)

We continue our annual Lenten visit to the station churches with our Roman pilgrim friend Agnese, this year joined by Mr Jacob Stein, author of the blog Passio XP.

Saturday of the Second Week - Ss Peter and Marcellinus
This church was originally constructed in the 4th century, in honor of two Roman martyrs of the persecution of Diocletian, the priest Marcellinus and the exorcist Peter; they are named in the Canon of the Mass, and their feast is kept on June 2nd. By the mid-18th century it had fallen into ruins and had to be completely rebuilt. It is below the level of the modern street on which it sits, at the corner of the via Merulana and the via Labicana, but not as severely as San Vitale, which we saw in the previous post of this series.
The Third Sunday of Lent - St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls
This is one of Rome’s oldest churches, built by the Emperor Constantine in the first years of the peace of the Church, over the site of the great martyr’s burial. Pope St Sixtus III (432-40) built a second church on the site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, flush with one of the walls of the Constantinian structure; this wall was then taken down in the time of Pelagius II (579-590, St Gregory the Great’s predecessor), transforming the Marian church into the nave of St Lawrence’s. The sanctuary was then rebuilt at a rather higher level than the nave, with a large crypt beneath it. The dedication to the Virgin Mary of what is now the nave is remembered in the traditional Gospel of the day, which ends with the verses from Luke 11 commonly read on Our Lady’s feasts, and at Her Saturday Votive Mass. “And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”
The procession passes though the church’s side aisle...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Pontifical Vespers Celebrated by Abp Sample

On Wednesday, March 20th, at St Stephen’s Parish in Portland, Oregon, His Excellency Alexander Sample, Archbishop of Portland, celebrated Pontifical Vespers at the throne according to the 1960 Antiphonale Romanum. Vespers was of the Wednesday of the second week of Lent; since there was no Solemn Mass being sung the following day, the attending ministers wore simple choir dress instead of sacred vestments. St Stephen’s celebrates traditional sung Latin Vespers every Sunday at 5 pm.

Tradition will always be for the young!
The Magnificat alternatim trium vocem by Christoph Dalitz (2018) was sung with a robust faux bordon, directed by 17 year old Coulter McIntyre and the schola of young men and seminarians.

EF Mass of Laetare Sunday in Vero Beach, Florida

The church of St John of the Cross in Vero Beach, Florida, will have a Missa cantata in the traditional rite on Laetare Sunday, starting at 12:30 p.m. The church is located at 7590 26th Street.

Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization

The following is a translation of a conference given by Fr. Roberto Spataro on September 30, 2017, in Mantua, Italy, at the Church of Ss Simon and Jude. The conference was entitled “La bellezza della liturgia si fa evangelizzazione (EV 28)”, given on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. It is included (along with another that has appeared on NLM) in a volume of Fr. Spataro’s essays soon to be published by Angelico Press. This translation by Zachary Thomas has also been published on Canticum Salomonis.

“Liturgical Beauty and Joyful Evangelization”
The experience of the Tridentine Mass
It is a great joy for me to speak this evening in the artistic setting of the church of Saints Simon and Jude, in a city so rich in history, culture, and faith. Mantua, a city that boasts so many illustrious citizens: Virgil, quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe (“That gentle sage, who knew all things.” Inferno, Canto VII); Sordello, the troubadour who inspired the Supreme Poet’s invective against Italy, di dolore ostello, nave senza nocchiere in gran tempesta, (“Inn of sorrows, ship without a helmsman in harsh seas.” Purgatorio, Canto VI, Mandelbaum translation) a sentiment which is true today more than ever; Vittorino da Feltre, Christian pedagogue; the Gonzaga princes, who gathered famous artists in their court, among them the composer Angelo Monteverdi. The fiftieth anniversary of this eminent musician is related to another event. In 2017 we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by which Pope Benedict XVI restored dignity to the venerable Tridentine liturgy, calling it the “extraordinary form” of the one Roman rite. Reflecting on the characteristics of this liturgical form, a passage from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium comes to mind as a springboard for this conversation:
Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.
I would like to develop my thoughts in two points.

1. The Tridentine liturgy is beautiful

Mass celebrated by the community of the FSSP’s German seminary at the Buxheim Charterhouse, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2016. (Reproduced by permission of the FSSP.)
We might say that there have been two complimentary conceptions of beauty in the history of Western civilization . The first considers beauty as the pulchrum, a proportion and harmony of parts, the perfection of form, integrity and elegance. It is an Apollonian conception found especially in the art of Greece. It appeals to reason and insists on the objectivity of the beautiful. The other conception, expounded especially by Kant, interprets beauty as a species, a sort of luminosity that breaks in upon an object, expands its substance, orienting it outside of itself and putting it in relation with the subject . The whole is in the fragment, as Urs von Balthasar would have said, that great Swiss theologian who, in his monumental work The Glory of the Lord, developed a convincing re-reading of theology in an aesthetic key. It is not by chance that there was a great harmony of thought and feeling between Hans Urs von Balthasar, theologian of beauty, and Joseph Ratzinger, pope of the liturgy and vindicator of the rights of the Latin Mass. They share a Dionysian conception of beauty that appeals to the senses and focuses on the subject. Both these aesthetic conceptions are in agreement that beauty is always very attractive. For this very reason, in Thomistic philosophy it is associated with the other transcendentals of being--unity, truth, and goodness--as part of the moral and spiritual fruition of the subject who experiences it. Now if we apply these categories to the Tridentine liturgy, we will easily grasp why it is beautiful.

The Tridentine Liturgy is harmonious. Like a perfect diptych, its first panel opens with the “Mass of the Catechumens,” and the second with the “Mass of the Faithful.” The second part is the more important since during it the Sacrifice is offered, and so it also lasts longer. The first part has its own interior coherence: it humbly leads us into the presence of God through the prayers at the foot of the altar, with their sublime penitential orientation. Out of this humility, which is the proper basis of the relationship between creature and Creator, sinner and Redeemer, springs the supplication of the Kyrie and the prayer of the Collect. At this point, we are ready to be instructed by the Wisdom of God that is revealed in salvation history and unfolds the truth that leads us to Heaven, for only the humble will “hear” and be glad, as the Psalm says. We find a copious sprinkling of Scripture passages and Psalm verses—a prayed Bible!—that make up the text of the Introit, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, and then the pericopes of the Epistle and the Holy Gospel. In every place we find the proportion that is the intrinsic property of beauty: texts that, except on a few special occasions, are neither too long nor too many, as is the case with the biennial or triennial cycle of the Novus Ordo. Though it had the laudable intention of offering a semi-continuous reading of the entirety of Sacred Scripture, this cycle ends up “wasting” a great number of texts that the average faithful cannot remember and, sometimes, not even hear, not only because of the length and difficulty of certain passages, but also because they are read by lectors insufficiently prepared for their task, chosen in obedience to the equality called for by an erroneous understanding of actuosa participatio. Length and bad diction are signs of vulgarity, not beauty.

The Diptych of Jeanne of France, by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden, 1452-70 (Musée Condé, Chantilly)
The Offertory begins. The sacred silence and the kneeling position of the faithful give the moment its peculiar solemnity. The prayers of the priest have an especially harmonious structure: the offering of the host and chalice, the personal apologies, the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity. As these ancient and venerable prayers are being offered, they are accompanied by the precise, delicate gestures typical of the Tridentine liturgy, and that give the rite its unmistakable pulchritudo. These gestures are just one example of the ordered variety that makes the liturgy Vetus Ordo so truly beautiful. There are also the bows toward the cross, the kissing of the cruets by the ministers and of the altar by the priest, and even the affectionate glances toward the sacred vessels and their contents. Christ, Our Lord, is loved because he is beautiful and is beautiful because he is loved. I could go on showing how the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is beautiful because it unfolds without excess or imperfection, with calm and proportion like a melodious chant. But we should move on to other considerations.

Let us try to apply the other conception of beauty to the Tridentine liturgy. The senses of one who assists at it are touched by the Sacred, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, to use the famous definition of Rudolf Otto. They are pervaded by a thrill of spiritual joy, to invoke the great bard of the divine beauty, Augustine of Hippo. The Sacred, i.e. the perception of God that follows his manifestation, excites both reverence and adoration, because he is tremendum; and love and attraction, because he is fascinans. Can anyone deny that reverence and adoration are especially present in the Tridentine liturgy, while unfortunately they are not well preserved in the Novus Ordo? Who would not agree with the claim that the priest—mark you, the priest, the sacrum dans and not the president of the assembly—ministers, and faithful, are all intimately drawn, (while each remaining in his proper place), toward the center of all and everything, the Crucified One enthroned on the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Cross is presented to everyone’s gaze, so that everyone may love it? This manifestation of the Sacred, transcendence and immanence, Heaven and earth, divine and human, is not merely the religious archetype identified by Otto, but the incarnation of the divine Word that wills to use the Sacred to reveal his Beauty in a human form: the divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has united human nature to his divine nature, and thus rendered his divinity accessible to human senses. This logic of the incarnation extends to the sacred liturgy because—as the Fathers of the Church taught and the Catechism of the Catholic Church has recalled in a timely manner—quod redemptoris nostri conspicuum fuit, in sacramenta transivit. (“what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries”: CCC 1115, citing Pope St Leo I, Sermon 74, 2). Beauty strikes the senses, and the Tridentine liturgy strongly affirms the aesthetic dimension.

Ss Paul Miki and Companions
In the Latin Mass, our view is directed to a triple focal point: the crucifix, the altar and what takes place there, and the tabernacle. Our attention is seized by the fairest among the children of men: “they will look upon the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Our eyes linger, feasting on the beauty of the colors of the walls, their costly ornament. We follow the ministers’ sacred dance, sober and constrained to careful, rhythmic movements, and from time to time our eyes wander to the decoration of the Temple, which recounts, in various styles, the story of the salvation recalled in each holy Mass. We hear words uttered in a raised voice, in a language different from our ordinary language, because it is reserved for dialogue with God, like a code that heightens understanding and connection between those who adopt it, a sort of familial register sons use to address their Father. It is a beautiful language, as only Latin can be, with its figures of sound and word, with a compact but still mobile construction that comes from its unmistakable literary style. Further, we hear the great silence that shrouds the priestly prayers, above all the Canon Missae, because the Mystery of God who pours out his blood for me, a sinner, because he loves me and saves me, can only be uttered submissa voce. Like all great and sublime things, he loves silence, which invites everyone to recollection and earnest prayer. We are charmed by the celestial charms of the sacred music, the sound of the organ, the Gregorian chant that floats mystically on high. We smell the delicious perfume of the incense that rises to Heaven just like our prayer, and the odor of the candles, symbols of the hearts that pine with longing for Heaven. All this proclaims a hope that the world does not know, and the Church of the last few years, not comprehending the grandeur of the Vetus Ordo, seems to have forgotten. Immersed in secular matters, and entranced by transient fashions, she has become like chaff scattered in the wind.

The sense of touch is also involved: kneeling at various points in the Holy Mass permits the faithful to touch the earth, and from this position to render adoration, thanksgiving, supplication, and impetration. The sense of touch is denied contact with the eucharistic species because the consecrated Host is received directly on the tongue, an eloquent gesture that expresses all the sanctity of the Sacrament received with faith. Only the priest is permitted to touch the Body and Blood of Christ, and only with extreme delicacy, as if caressing it. In fact, on the day of his priestly ordination, his hands were anointed with the chrism, a biblical-liturgical sign of the Holy Spirit, the divine Person who through the epiclesis performs that miracle of miracles, the consecration. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 33:9), the Psalmist exclaims. The Vetus Ordo liturgy frequently repeats this verse to dispose the faithful to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ with a hunger at once spiritual and material, provided they are suitably disposed to do so.

To sum up, dear friends, we must find, perceive, and enjoy the beauty of the One who has been pierced. This is a “synaesthetic” experience that affirms sensual richness—for the sacraments are propter homines (“for us”), as Thomas Aquinas would say—so that the manifestation of the All in the fragment, of God in the space and time of the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice hic et nunc, may irradiate the Divine Mystery that is in itself the revelation of beauty. Confronted with this liturgy that is so potently theocentric and therefore respectful of all anthropological structures, we cannot help but remark, with a note of sadness, that the Novus Ordo is more impoverished, more rational, more prolix, even to the point that it becomes irritatingly and insufferably wordy in the hands of certain showman priests and ministers. A liturgy celebrated in this way is relentlessly narcissistic and vulgar.

Permit me to conclude this point about the beauty of the old liturgy with a Marian reflection. Our Lady, Tota Pulchra, is the creature in whom all beauty, insofar as it is pulchritudo and speciositas, is gathered to a Mass. The Tridentine liturgy cannot help but invoke her in the heart of the Mass: in the prayer that offers the sacrifice to the Most Holy Trinity, and in the Communicantes of the Canon. An irrepressible longing for Heaven rises from the thought of the Holy Virgin, who descends more beautiful than the dawn (Cant. 6, 9) to soften the pains of this life, where we can always count on her powerful patronage.

The Christ Child and Virgin Mary in the Company of the Saints, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the central front panel of the dismembered altarpiece of Siena Cathedral known as the Maestà, 1311, now located in the cathedral Museum. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
2. The Beauty of the Tridentine Liturgy and Evangelization

Recall the opening citation from Evangelii Gaudium, which pointed out the relationship between the via pulchritudinis of the liturgy and the two-fold evangelical movement of the Church. The Church first allows herself to be evangelized so that she can then evangelize the world. Let us explicate this point. More than ever, the Church today needs to be oriented to Christ, her Head, her Spouse, her Founder. Christ is her Gospel, the good news that brings joy to her youth and fills her with authentic joy and hope. Unfortunately in the past few years, with a rapidity that should raise serious questions and concern, the Church has become engrossed with issues of a sociological nature, all affecting more or less the Church’s moral teaching. Many dubious proposals have been made by pastors, even those who bear serious ecclesial responsibilities, that are frankly incompatible with Gospel. The Church feels the need to be re-evangelized and led back to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI made extraordinary efforts in this direction, and his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth is an expression of a Christocentrism founded on Scripture and the sound doctrine of Tradition. He always wanted to promote a reform of the liturgy, and this program found a great expression in Summorum Pontificum.

The Tridentine Mass is truly evangelical because it is Christocentric. Just think of its conclusion: the proclamation of the prologue of the Gospel of John. It is like a hinge joining the liturgy to the daily life to which we are about to return. It proclaims the heart of the Gospel, the Mystery of the incarnation, with the beauty we have been speaking of: the hieratic movement of the priest toward the Gospel side, the reading, the genuflection at the words et Verbum caro factum est, and during the Sung Mass, the musical piece performed by the schola cantorum. The Church is evangelized during the celebration of the Tridentine Mass because, as the fourth-century Father of the Church and author of very valuable liturgical-mystagogical catecheses, Cyril of Jerusalem, said, the teachings of Sacred Scripture must be gathered into a summary, the regula fidei (“the rule of faith”), the Creed of the catechism. But the Tridentine Mass itself is a catechism in action, tying us intimately to the Gospel of Christ. “What are the two principal mysteries of the Faith?” asked the unsurpassable Catechism of St Pius X. The Mass tells us. We profess our faith in God’s unity and trinity when we turn to the three divine Persons at the beginning of the Mass in the nine-fold Kyrie eleison, three times invoking the Father, three times Christ, and three times the Spirit. We adore their majesty when we sing the Gloria. We implore them to accept our offering at the Offertory. We express our desire for them to accept the sacrifice in the prayer just before the final blessing. As for the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation, passion, and death: how many signs of the cross does the priest trace out, especially during the Canon? The whole ancient liturgy and all of its texts are steeped in the theology of the Fathers of the Church, rather than the ideas of the experts and specialists of the twentieth century, and its rites are a compendium of the Holy Gospel, the Church’s real treasure that has been translated into doctrine and summarized in the Catechism.

We could continue to multiply examples of how the Tridentine Mass is a catechism for everyone, including faithful evangelizers and non-believers in need of evangelization. The plan of salvation history—creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, grace, glory, and eternal life—is taken up and synthesized in the great prayers of the Church. For instance, think of the words that the priest says as he pours the water into the chalice:

Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti [creation] et mirabilius reformasti [redemption], da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius divinitatis esse consortes [divinization and the life of grace], qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps [incarnation]. ~ O God, who did wonderfully create human nature, and more wonderfully still restore it, grant us through the Mystery of this water and wine, that we may be made partakers of His divinity, who deigned to become a partaker in our humanity.

The Confiteor in the Carthusian Mass
Now take the Confiteor. The ritual gestures surrounding it reinvoke the whole drama of sin with great clarity and poignancy, as we kneel, beat our chests, recite the prayer, and await the priest’s absolution so sadly abolished in the Novus Ordo: Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum vestroum tribuat vobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus. In the Roman Canon, the priest asks the Father for the grace to pass the final judgment, the judgment that should be our only concern, though a serene one for Mary is praying for us: ab aeterna damnatione nos eripi et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari.

Once she has been evangelized, the Church is ready to evangelize. The Tridentine Mass furnishes the grace that makes her disciples into zealous apostles, and her faithful into courageous missionaries. Is this not the Mass that inspired generation upon generation of our forefathers to spread the Gospel to faraway lands, often in the midst of grave dangers? When we read the chronicles of the missionary expeditions of the Jesuits and Franciscans in Asia and Latin America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we are surprised and moved by how concerned they were to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in this liturgical form that casts itself completely upon God as the giver of all things, especially the grace to make efforts of evangelization fruitful.

The usus antiquior is an effective evangelizer for another reason: it speaks to the heart of those who have lost the faith or never had it. For example, today in our western society that denies its Christian roots, some people, thirsting for recollection and interior peace, turn to oriental philosophies that, despite whatever good is in them, leave the soul in its existential loneliness. They have no God to love them, to feel loved, to love. The silence and sacrality of the Tridentine Mass is a discovery that often becomes the first step toward the faith. Others, especially the young, find our “pastoral initiatives” banal, if not outright heterodox! They are looking for solid spiritual food. The Tridentine Mass offers them this substantial nourishment. Its theology coincides completely with the fides quae (“what is believed”); here the lex credendi is the lex orandi. The simple, who are the beloved of God, intuitively recognize that something very great is taking place in the Tridentine Mass, where the priests speaks with God and all are on their knees before him. The sacred mysteries teach and evangelize them too. Every kind of person feels the fascination of the splendor of this Mass that, even when offered in a small place or with modest means, is always solemn and majestic because it is truly beautiful, beautiful with a beauty mediated through vestments, words, gestures, but founded in God the supremely beautiful. To be at this Mass is to set out on a Platonic itinerarium pulchritudinis in Deum, which begins from material signs and ascends in steps up to Reality itself. It gazes upon creation in order to rise to the creator. The experience was described by Augustine, and I will close our conversation with his words:
Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread around everywhere, question the beauty of the sky, question the serried ranks of the stars, question the sun making the day glorious with its bright beams, question the moon tempering the darkness of the following night with its shining rays, question the animals that move in the waters, that amble about on dry land, that fly in the air; their souls hidden, their bodies evident; the visible bodies needing to be controlled, the invisible souls controlling them; question all these things. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we are beautiful.’ Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not unchanging Beauty? (St Augustine, Sermon 241. Translation slightly modified from the Vatican website.)
The Creation, and God Introducing Adam to Eve, by Jean Fouquet, ca. 1470

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Photopost - St Joseph 2019

Here are a few spontaneous photopost submissions from the feast of St Joseph, celebrated last Tuesday.

Ss Dominic and Sixtus - Rome, Italy
The church attached to the Angelicum University in Rome has a Mass in the traditional Roman Rite every Tuesday, and the Dominican Rite every Thursday, both at 12:30 pm. (It is normally a read Mass, but for the feast of St Joseph, the Mass was solemn.)

Lenten Stations in the Ancient Rite of Paris (Part 4)

We present the fourth part of Henri de Villiers’ article on the Lenten stations observed by the church of Paris, in an English translation by Gerhard Eger, also published on Canticum Salomonis. The French original was published on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile; since it is fairly lengthy, we have broken it up into six parts, each covering the stations celebrated that particular week. See part one for a general introduction.
8. Monday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the abbatial church of Sainte-Geneviève-du-Mont en l'Université (Sancta Genovefa de Monte in Universitate).

On the left, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, and on the right, the ancient abbatial church of St Genevieve.
This famous Parisian abbey was founded in 502 by King Clovis and his wife Queen St Clotilde on Mount Lucotitius, where there was already a cemetery called the monastère des Saints-Apôtres, originally dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. St Genevieve had the custom of praying there and took a path that would later become the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. When she died in 512, her body was buried in the crypt of the abbatial church next to that of King Clovis, who had died and been buried there the previous year. They were joined in 545 by Queen St Clotilde. Several councils were held there during the 6th and 7th centuries, notably in 577 against Prætextatus, bishop of Rouen. Ravaged by Viking invasions in 857, the abbey was not rebuilt until the beginning of the 12th century by Stephen of Tournai; at the time, it was under the order of Cluny. During the trial of the Templars, a pontifical commission used the abbey as its headquarters from August 8, 1309 to June 5, 1311; nearly 600 Templars came there to defend their order. On June 24, 1667, Descartes’ copper coffin was placed there under a marble monument.

A procession with the relics of St Genevieve, which was held every year on November 26th to commemorate the “miraculum ardentium”, which took place in the year 1129. The Parisians were saved from an epidemic of “the burning sickness,” a series of painful symptoms, including a burning sensation in the extremities, caused by ingesting grain contaminated with ergot. The epidemic was ended when the relics of St Genevieve were paraded around the city, and the procession was continued for many centuries afterwards. This image comes from a “collectarium” made for the prior of St Genevieve in 1711, a book which contains only the celebrant’s parts for the singing of the Divine Office: the intonations of the relevant antiphons, the chapters, and the collects.
The abbatial church was famous for holding the relics of St Genevieve, patroness of Paris; grand processions with these relics marked the great crises in the history of the city and of France. As the headquarters of the congregation of Augustinian abbeys known as the Génovéfains, the abbey enjoyed great influence throughout Europe beginning in the 17th century. This congregation, set up by Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, abbot of Sainte-Geneviève, had the goal of effecting in Augustinian abbeys the reforms demanded by the Council of Trent. During the 18th century, the ancient abbey was falling in ruin and King Louis XV, in fulfillment of a vow he made during an illness in 1744, decided to build a vast new basilica to replace the old church, placed further to the west over the abbey gardens. The project, entrusted to the architect Soufflot, began in 1758 and was finished in 1790.

On April 4, 1791, however, the Constitutional Assembly secularized the church of Sainte-Geneviève and transformed it into a “Pantheon for great men”. What remained of the old abbatial church was demolished in 1807 to make way for the Rue Clovis. Of the original church, there only remains the clocktower, known today by the name of “tour Clovis” (Clovis Tower), placed inside the Lycée Henry-IV, itself composed of the old conventual buildings of the abbey, which date from the 13th and 17th centuries. Napoleon I gave the building over to Catholic worship by a decree of February 20, 1806, but the July Monarchy secularized it again to remake the Pantheon. The future Napoleon III restored the building to Catholic worship by a decree of November 6, 1851 and the Third Republic suppressed it on July 19, 1881.

9. Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the abbatial church of Saint-Victor au dit faubourg (Sanctus Victor in suburbio ejusdem).

The Abbey of St Victor in 1655, in an engraving by Mérian.
Around 1108, the famous theologian William of Champeaux retired from teaching with some disciples and moved into an abandoned hermitage next to a chapel dedicated to St Victor, on the foothills of Mount Sainte-Geneviève. In 1113, when he was elected bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, Louis VI the Fat transformed his little hermitage into a richly endowed abbey, and the following year, the pope confirmed the foundation. William’s successor was Gilduin, his most beloved disciple and the king’s confessor. Born in Paris, he was abbot from 1113 to 1155, and wrote a rule—the Liber ordinis Sancti Victoris—characterized by rigorous asceticism, where silence and manual work were dominant. Because of the personality of its founders, Saint-Victor quickly became an intellectual center of the first rank: its school foreshadowed and contributed to the foundation of the University of Paris in the following century. Ss Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas Becket (1118-1170) both made retreats here, and the bishops of Paris had an apartment in the abbey.

At the death of its first abbot Gilduin in 1155, the abbey already presided over 44 foundations, and a letter from Pope Gregory XI dated July 2, 1233 lists 70 daughter-houses, not only in northern France, but also in Italy, England, and even Denmark. In 1237, a chair of theology, linked to the University of Paris, was established there. At the beginning of the 14th century, most of the 12th-century buildings were destroyed and replaced by new, bigger, and better-lighted structures. Nevertheless, beginning in 1350, the abbey faced several difficulties and, despite several reforms, it was finally absorbed by its great rival, the Congregation of France (Génovéfains) in 1633. The Abbey of Saint-Victor was suppressed in 1790, but the abbatial church became a parish in 1791; the buildings were then sold as nationalized property, before being finally demolished in 1811. They were situated on the site of the current Université Jussieu and the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes. One of the last vestiges of the interior of the abbey, the so-called Tower of Alexander, upon which the Saint-Victor Fountain was raised, was destroyed together with the latter in 1840.

10. Friday of the Third Week of Lent: station at the collegiate church of Saint-Marcel au dit faubourg (Sanctus Marcellus in suburbio ejusdem).

The collegiate church of Saint-Marcel on the Turgot plan of 1739.
St Marcellus is the ninth bishop of Paris whose name has come down to us. He was born in 505 in Paris, on the Île de la Cité, to a humble family living near the Petit-Pont. Having become bishop of Paris, he protected St Genevieve and performed several miraculous healings; he is honored as the third protector of Paris, together with Ss Dionysius and Genevieve. When he died on 1 November 436 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, he was buried near the southeast exit from Paris, in one of the cemeteries which ran along the old Roman road. A little later a church was erected over his tomb, which became gradually surrounded by houses. During the 6th century, this place had enough homes for Gregory of Tours to call it a vicus (village); this is the origin of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel (in the current 5th and 13th arrondisements). This original church was destroyed at the end of the 9th century during the Norman invasions, but the relics of St Marcellus were kept safe in the cathedral and preserved. Around 1040 a new church was built over the ruins of the old and became a collegiate church in 1158. This collegiate church was of considerable size, with a nave about 50 metres long, 38 metres wide at the transept; its crypt housed the Saint’s tomb. Peter Lombard, the 72nd bishop of Paris and teacher of Philip of France, son of Louis VI, was buried there in 1160.

Until the 17th century, the collegiate church remains outside the walls of Paris. It was closed during the Revolution in 1790 and then destroyed in 1806. Its last vestiges disappeared when the Boulevard Saint-Marcel and the Rue de la Collégiale were laid out (their names preserve its memory), with the exception of one of its towers, which survived until 1874. Today, a boundary stone of the city of Paris, set up on the Boulevard Saint-Marcel around number 81, reminds passers-by of the existence of the old collegiate church.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Roman Pilgrims at the Station Churches 2019 (Part 3)

A friend of mine used to joke that half of the churches in Rome could be given the same name, “Our Lady of Perpetual Restoration”, which is funny precisely because it is so close to the truth. Every year we have run this series, we have had photos of churches which were partly under restoration, or photos of churches to which a station was transferred, since the regular station was completely unusable; in today’s post, the third of this year’s series, we have one of each. We also have a particularly good set of photos from one of the city’s most interesting churches, the Basilica of St Clement; once again, many thanks to our dear Roman pilgrim friend Agnese for sharing these photos with us.

The Second Sunday of Lent - Santa Maria in Domnica
In keeping with a common abuse, which became a particularly acute problem in the 15th century, Giovanni de’ Medici, the younger son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was made the Cardinal-Deacon of this church in 1489, when he was 13 years old. He would hold the title until 1513, when, after being elected Pope and taking the name Leo X (1513-21), he passed it to his cousin Giulio, the future Clement VII (1523-34). This ceiling was made as part of a major restoration of the church which he commissioned; the various sections represent the titles of the Virgin Mary from the Litany of Loreto, but several are different from the standard text used today.
Monday of the Second Week - St Clement
This basilica is famously built on top of two earlier levels; the 12th-century church (seen below in pictures 5-7) sits on top of a church of the 4th century, which in turn sits on top of two ancient Roman buildings, one of the later 1st and another of the mid-2nd century. (All three of these levels are accessible to the public.) The procession begins in the ruins of the ancient basilica, makes its way upstairs and through the large portico, before entering for the Mass. Also notice in the 1st photo the custom of strewing greenery on the floors of churches during the station Masses; nobody seems to really know where this comes from or why it is done.

When the second level, the church of the 4th century, was dug out in the mid-19th century, no remains of an altar or any part of the sanctuary were found. The archeologists soon realized that in the process of building the newer church on top of the older, the 12-century builders had dismantled them entirely, moved them upstairs, and reassembled them in their current place. The altar and baldachin seen here were then newly made so that the rediscovered spaces of the older church could be used once again for worship.
St Clement has been home to the Irish Dominican friars in Rome since the later 17th century; many of their confreres from the other Dominican houses in the city come to join the procession.

How Carmelite Spirituality Informs the Design of a Monastery Today

Readers of the New Liturgical Movement may be wondering how the Carmelite nuns in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, whom we have featured before, are getting on with their project to build a new convent in a traditional style. I think that both architecturally and liturgically this is something that is worthy of note.

They seem to be making good progress, but could still do with prayers and financial support. For those who wish to know more, and perhaps even donate, you can do so through their website:

They are an offshoot of the Valparaiso Carmel, and describe their liturgy as follows:
We celebrate Holy Mass and the Divine Office in Latin, using the rubrics and texts pre- Novus Ordo; generally those of the 1962 Extraordinary Form. We have sung-Masses with incense on Sundays and other feasts regulated by our ancient Carmelite ritual books. We chant all the Hours of the Divine Office including Matins each day, but (except on feast days) this is done recto tono. We sing polyphony pieces and hymns during Holy Mass on feast days. On other days we attend Holy Mass in silence. 
Their convent is modeled after St Teresa’s original plans in Avila, Spain. Here are the architect’s drawings and some photos of the buildings taking shape.

I asked one of their nuns about their aims for the monastery and also about Carmelite life.

First of all, what style is the monastery?
In the 1500’s, Our Holy Mother St Teresa of Avila would take the large haciendas, and country and city homes of the time, and join them together to form her first monasteries; she would also ensure large garden spaces and build an encircling wall. Our style choice was instinctively informed by this. Ten years ago, when the idea of building a new monastery took flight, I spoke to Mother about the style it was going to be and said it should just be a simple Pennsylvania stone farmhouse behind a chapel. This concept has remained constant up until this day: taking what is natural and fits with this area, acknowledging the wisdom of our forefathers who originally settled this land. It is a farmhouse complex made up of several smaller buildings connected by “covered cloisters”. Like Saint Teresa envisioned, this monastery will be a “micro village” - a Church at the center, with living quarters and workshops surrounding it. The chapel facade is modeled after San Jose’s chapel in Avila. It is being built with large, rough cut heavy timbers, plain plaster walls washed with a milk/lime paint, brick floors, open fireplaces, as well as wood stoves, candle and lamplight, and hand pumps at the sink. No central heating, A/C or electricity, cooking with wood, shutters on single-pane windows. The Chapel will with a marble altar, stained glass, and small pipe organ - the sanctuary being the jewel set in the rough. Of course, the stone is on the outside with slate roofs, big chimneys, and a 40’ bell tower.

All the rooms/spaces are specifically geared to the monastic life. The Choir is behind a double grill adjacent to the sanctuary. There is the Chapter Room, Refectory, individual cells, and a Novitiate. Basically, we are striving to build how a farmer might have two hundred years ago, but not what he built - essentially using the PA stone farmhouse language to speak a 15th-century Spanish text.
Can you tell me something about the Carmelite charism and spirituality?

Discalced Carmelite life is centered around interior, silent prayer along with a definite strong note of the eremetical. Both these characteristics distinguish it from the monastic forms, such as Benedictines, who center their spiritually on the Divine Office. Some things that result from this would be: two hours of mental prayer in silence in the Choir before the tabernacle (but not - except very occasionally - before the exposed Blessed Sacrament); the only occasional sung Mass; and only on some days certain Hours of the Divine Office are chanted in Gregorian chant. The Nuns are very strictly enclosed, behind grills, walls, and a turn, but also within the monastery each sister must work alone in her cell or an office and keep strict silence during the day. On the other hand, there is an intense family atmosphere with two full hours of recreation, one after dinner and one after supper. Very few religious houses have this amount of time set aside each day. There are no games but work is done while one common conversation takes place.

How many are there in your community?
Eleven now; and 21 is ideal.

Who is doing the construction?
First of all, we have had an excellent architect (Riccardo Vincenzino) from the very beginning. At heart, he desires all the things we are striving for, but is prudent too and makes sure we understand the difficulties (and expense) of trying to build an authentic way in today’s building world.

Last summer, Neil Rippingale of Scotland - a master stone mason - headed up the building crew in erecting our fist building. It was dedicated on June 27. Then into the fall and winter, our next building was completed: the guest cottage. Built by Brian Post from the Stone Trust, it is a small two-story building that will be used for visiting priests and aspirants.

This spring, work begins on our next building. The Recreation and Work Rooms (Vestry) building is 3750 sq. ft, and will be built in the same style as our guest cottage - using only reclaimed wood and structural stone masonry. It is the largest building so far and should take approximately 12 months to finish. The stone masonry will be headed up by a master mason, Justin Money, of Irish Rock Art. Stone masonry begins in May, and excavation is already completed. With minimal plumbing and no electricity, the building will be heated by wood burning stoves and have a rainwater system. The plastered walls will keep the building cool and in the summer, and warm in the winter.

Once the stonework is finished, local craftsmen will hand make the windows and doors, while timber framers will do the roof, and the interior will be completed by Patrick Lemmon, resident Project Manager, and owner of Orthodox Masonry. Floors and fireplaces will be built using Old Carolina Brick - a company which specializes in hand making brick. Each brick is hand molded using the beautiful and lasting traditions of colonial craftsmanship. The roof will be finished with authentic Virginia slate. Once it is finished, we will be able to move out of the barn and trailer and into something much more suitable for living. After this building is completed, plans for 2020 will commence.
Here is a picture of the monastery in Avila.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Why Do We Sing Liturgical Texts?

In all religions of the world, we find the chanting of sacred texts. Such a surprising convergence suggests that there is a natural connection between the worship of the divine and singing the texts involved in the rites — that is, a connection based on the nature of man, of song, and of word.

The Philosophy of Singing Religious Texts

This universal practice derives from an intuitive sense that holy things and the holy sentiments that go along with them should not be talked about as ordinary everyday things are, but elevated to a higher level through melodious modulation—or submerged into silence. Authentic rituals, therefore, tend to alternate between silences (either for meditation or during a symbolic action) and chanting (which may or may not be accompanied by some other action).

Acts of public worship are rendered more solemn, and their content more appealing and memorable, by the singing of clergy, cantors, choir, and congregation. Moreover, the contrast between singing (human expression at its highest) and silence (a deliberate “apophatic” withholding of discourse) is more striking than the contrast between speaking and not speaking. The former is like the rise and fall of ocean waves, while the latter seems more like switching a lightbulb on and off.

Speech is primarily discursive and instructional, aimed at a listener, while song, which more easily and naturally unites many singers into one body, is capable of being in addition the bearer of feelings and of meanings that go beyond what words can convey, greatly augmenting the penetrating power of the words themselves. We find this especially in the melismas of chant, the lengthy melodic elaborations on a single syllable that give voice to inner emotions and aspirations that words cannot fully express.

No one has commented more insightfully than the philosopher of music Victor Zuckerkandl on the almost mystical power of song to unite singers with each other, and the subject with the object. In his book Man the Musician, published by Princeton University Press in 1973, he writes:
Music is appropriate, is helpful, where self-abandon is intended or required — where the self goes beyond itself, where subject and object come together. Tones seem to provide the bridge that makes it possible, or at least makes it easier, to cross the boundary separating the two. (24–25)
The spoken word presupposes “the other,” the person or persons to whom it is addressed; the one speaking and the one spoken to are turned toward each other; the word goes out from one to the other, creating a situation in which the two are facing each other as distinct, separate individuals. Wherever there is talk, there is a “he-not-I” on the one hand and his counterpart, an “I-not-he,” on the other. This is why the word is not the natural expression of the group. ...
       [S]inging is the natural and appropriate expression of the group, of the togetherness of individuals within the group. If this is the case, we may assume that tones — singing — essentially express not the individual but the group; more accurately, the individual in so far as he is a member, of the group; still more accurately, the individual in so far as his relation to the others is not one of “facing them” but one of togetherness.
       Whereas words turn people toward each other, as it were, make them look at each other, tones turn them all in the same direction: everyone follows the tones on their way out and on their way back. The moment tones resound, the situation where one party faces another is transmuted into a situation of togetherness, the many distinct individuals into the one group. (27–29)
And finally:
If his words are not merely spoken but sung, they build a living bridge that links him with the things referred to by the words, that transmutes distinction and separation into togetherness. By means of the tones, the speaker goes out to the things, brings the things from outside within himself, so that they are no longer “the other,” something alien that he is not, but the other and his own in one. …
       The singer remains what he is, but his self is enlarged, his vital range is extended: being what he is he can now, without losing his identity, be with what he is not; and the other, being what it is, can, without losing its identity, be with him. (29–30)
Ultimately, it comes down to this: we sing when we are at one, or wish to be at one, with our activity or the object of our activity. This is true when we are in love with another person. It is most of all true when we are in love with God. That is the origin of the incomparably great music of the Catholic tradition. St. Augustine says: “Only the lover sings.” We sing… and we whisper… and we fall silent.

In the course of this discussion, Zuckerkandl makes a point that reminds me painfully of years of growing up in the Novus Ordo with congregations reciting together the Gloria or the “Holy, Holy, Holy”:
Can one imagine that people come together to speak songs? One can, but only as a logical possibility; in real life this would be absurd. It would turn something natural into something utterly unnatural. (25)
The recitation of normatively sung texts at a Low Mass “works” only because the priest alone is saying the texts, and doing so at the altar, ad orientem. [1] He is not addressing the words of the song to anyone except God. They thereby acquire a ritual status comparable to that of the recited Canon. The speaking of sung texts is not liturgically ideal; really this form of Mass developed for the personal devotion of the priest when celebrating at a side altar with a clerk. Nevertheless, to have a large church packed with people and then to say the songs rather than sing them should strike everyone as odd. But we may leave this point aside for the nonce, as I have taken it up elsewhere.

Practical Reasons for Singing Texts

There are also practical reasons for singing. As experience proves, texts that are sung or chanted with correct elocution are heard with greater clarity and forcefulness in a large assembly of people than texts that are read aloud or even shouted. The music has a way of carrying the words and making them penetrate the listeners’ ears and souls. In ancient times, epic and lyric poetry, and even parts of political speeches, were chanted for this very reason.

Electrical amplification was unnecessary when architects sought to build spaces that resonated properly and liturgical ministers learned how to sing out. A well-built church with well-trained singers has absolutely no need of artificial amplification. Moreover, not everything in the liturgy has to be heard by everyone, contrary to one of the key assumptions behind the wreckovation of our rites.

It is hard to imagine a modern-day airport managing without speakers for announcements. It is, in contrast, a tragedy when the same technical, pragmatic, impersonal, and unfocused type of sound-production invades churches. In a church, the microphone kills the intimacy, humility, locality, and directionality of the human voice. The voice now becomes that of a placeless giant, a Big Brother larger than life, coming from everywhere and nowhere, dominating and subduing the listener. Putting mics and speakers in a church does not enhance a natural process; it subverts it. There is no continuum between the unaided voice and the artificially amplified voice: they are two separate phenomena, with altogether different phenomenologies.

When ritual texts are adorned with fitting music, their message “carries,” both physically and spiritually.

Gregorian Chant as the Ideal of Sung Text

The eight characteristics of Gregorian chant are:
  • primacy of the word
  • free rhythm
  • unison singing
  • unaccompanied vocalization
  • modality
  • anonymity
  • emotional moderation
  • unambiguous sacrality
(I have discussed these in greater detail here.)

These characteristics, taken together, show that chant is not only a little bit different from other types of vocal music, but radically and profoundly different. [2] It is liturgical music through and through, existing solely for divine worship, perfectly suited to its verbal, sacred nature, and well suited to aid the faithful who associate it with that worship and who find it both beautiful and strange, as God Himself is.

We can see better now, why chant is a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, why it gives a nobler form to the celebration, and why it is specially suited to the Roman Rite and deserves the foremost place within it—all of which was asserted without ambiguity in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

When performed in an edifying manner, chant in and of itself “accords with the spirit of the liturgical action,” which cannot be assumed for any other piece of music. In other words, chant furnishes the very definition of what it means to “accord with the spirit of the liturgical action,” and other musical works must line up to be evaluated, as it were, by this supreme criterion — as Pope St Pius X had said in his motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini: “It is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration, and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.”


[1] This has come to be my principal objection to the dialogue Mass, at least inasmuch as it involves reciting those texts that would normally be sung.

[2] It’s often been remarked that the potent connection between chant and Catholicism is well exploited by Hollywood movie directors, who, whenever they want to evoke a “Catholic atmosphere,” make sure there is some chant wafting in the background. If only today’s clergy had half as much “business sense”!

Visit for information, articles, sacred music, and Os Justi Press.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: